By Sharayah Colter
June 23, 2021
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Among the motions presented at the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was a motion to consider whether Saddleback Church will remain in friendly cooperation with the fellowship of more than 47,000 churches. The California church, led by Pastor Rick Warren, came under scrutiny this spring when the church publicized having ordained three women to pastoral roles—an action that revived debate among Southern Baptists about whether the nation’s largest protestant denomination has begun a leftward drift.
Shad Tibbs, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Trout, La., offered the motion, which has been referred to the Credentials Committee, during the Annual Meeting held in Nashville, Tenn.
Stoney Benfield, pastor of Prospect Baptist Church in Albemarle, N.C., and a Conservative Baptist Network Steering Council member, said the practice of ordaining women to serve as pastors does not align with Scripture or the Baptist Faith and Message.
“As Southern Baptists, we simply believe the Bible and what it teaches concerning the office and the function of a New Testament pastor,” Benfield said. “In 2000, we as a convention approved the BF&M which reads that the office of a pastor is limited to men only. My concern is that the BF&M 2000 is not clear enough in this current culture and needs to be amended to address the office and the function of a pastor limited to men only. You cannot separate the office from the function of a pastor and embrace the sufficiency of the Scriptures.”
Several motions related or sought to initiate investigations into various entities and their representatives, demonstrating what some describe as an atmosphere of growing distrust between Southern Baptists, their institutions, and their leaders. Jared Longshore of Florida moved that an investigation of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) take place, and Grant Gaines of Tennessee asked for an investigation into the Executive Committee, specifically calling for a broadening of the parameters of an investigation Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd had already set in motion prior to the start of the Annual Meeting. Gaines’ motion, co-authored by North Carolina Pastor Ronnie Parrott, also calls for the newly elected SBC President, Ed Litton, to appoint a task force to oversee a third-party investigation into “any allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, a pattern of intimidation of victims or advocates, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives,” according to text of the motion.
The investigation will review the “actions and decisions of staff and members of the Executive Committee from January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021” and will audit the recently formed Credentials Committee.
The Committee on Order of Business initially referred the Gaines and Parrott motion to the Executive Committee, but a two-thirds vote compelled the Committee on Order of Business to schedule the item for discussion and a vote. When presented to messengers for the vote, the motion passed.
Among other requests to examine actions and procedures, Jay Adkins of Louisiana presented a motion to ask the Executive Committee to study conflicts of interest in relation to the roles of legal counsel, Brad Patterson of Texas presented a motion calling for study of the use of non-disclosure agreements by SBC entities, Rick Hillard of Kentucky presented a motion requesting an audit of SBC institutions be carried out every five years with findings being made public, and Brian King of Oregon presented a motion to have the SBC investigate whether claims in certain legal filings conflict with SBC governing documents.
Committee on Order of Business Chairman Adam Greenway referred to the Executive Committee motions made by Adkins, Patterson, and Hillard. Greenway ruled King’s motion not in order, saying that the SBC is “not an investigative body.”
Allen Nelson of Arkansas made a motion to restrict Cooperative Program funds in the 2021-2022 budget from paying for any third-party investigations into the Executive Committee or the ERLC until a group of seven Southern Baptists with 15 years of experience first try to solve any issues. Greenway ruled the motion out of order because the budget had already been adopted and could not be amended.
Several motions offered dealt with the Committee on Resolutions, with two messengers seeking earlier public release of the text of resolutions, one messenger seeking a change in the bylaws governing the committee, and Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., making a motion to consider discontinuing the committee altogether.
Multiple motions were made to rescind resolutions from previous years, including one regarding the debate-laden Resolution 9, passed in 2019. These motions were ruled out of order, Convention attorney Jamie Jordan explained, because no gathered group of messengers in one year can “undo” an opinion expressed by any other gathered group of messengers from a previous year. Tom Ascol of Florida challenged the ruling, raising a point of order.
“President Greear, yesterday you ruled that a messenger can only present a motion to rescind one resolution at a time,” Ascol said. “So why today are you ruling that my motion to rescind a resolution is not in order at all? We just heard the explanation from the attorney and what he said should be done in terms of passing a new resolution, over 1,300 Southern Baptists attempted to do, and the Resolutions Committee would not bring out our resolution. What recourse do we have?”
Though his point was deemed, “not well taken,” Ascol thanked Greear and said he would accept the decision but that he wanted to make it a matter of record that 1,300 messengers tried to address the 2019 CRT-as-an-analytical-tool resolution by offering a new resolution but were blocked from doing so by the Committee on Resolutions.